Author Sharla Lovelace Rides The Fence Between Romance And Women’s Fiction

Dear WFW friends,

It’s both tragedy and joy that bring people together. A week ago we were all waiting to see what Hurricane Sandy would do to the East Coast. Beaches, homes, businesses, and lives have been ravaged. Then, and even now, we’re focusing much needed time and attention where it should be. On the victims. 

But for some, things are getting back to a new normal. And that includes the world of publishing.  And celebrating with a friend, or discovering a new author, doesn’t mean we are not fully aware of what’s going on on Staten Island, Long Island, and Lower Manhattan, not to mention parts of New Jersey and the Jersey Shore. It doesn’t mean we won’t do our part or that we don’t know what’s important. 

The truth is, many things are important. So, if you are fortunate enough to have power and heat and your life on-track, celebrate with us here for a little while today. It’s the joyful book birthday for Sharla Lovelace’s second novel, BEFORE AND EVER SINCE!

Sharla and I have internet trails that criss-cross around cyberspace. It’s these kinds of online connections that make me forget — I’ve never actually MET this person. And haven’t we come a long way that it’s not embarrassing to admit that? 

Please welcome Sharla to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Sharla Lovelace Rides The Fence Between Romance And Women’s Fiction

Amy: Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, Sharla! Can you tell us how launching BEFORE AND EVER SINCE differed from launching your THE REASON IS YOU?

Sharla: Well, really, the biggest differences were in time and promo. First one, I wasn’t writing anything else when it came out, so I sat all happy in my published glow, and watched the little birds fly around my head. 🙂 I didn’t know much about promoting, so I wasn’t doing all that I should have been doing. Now, as my second book comes out, I’m promoting it, my first, my novella, doing launch parties and all-weekend events, all while trying to keep writing on my new series and another book idea my agent came up with. Which, while that is all insane, it’s necessary to succeed as a new author. So, maybe there won’t be birds, but hopefully there will be sales. LOL.

Amy: If you could launch your first book all over again, is there anything you’d do differently?

Sharla: Everything I just mentioned above. 🙂

Amy: We’re both members (and on the board) of the RWA-WF Chapter. Tell us what women’s fiction means to you — and how that might differ from romance in your opinion. Where do your books fall? Under one category or both? (I think that’s possible, and I bet you do too!)

Sharla: Most definitely! In my opinion, there are many different levels of women’s fiction. There’s what I call “purist” which is strictly and only about the woman’s journey, no romance or even a hint of it involved. Then there are the “hybrids”. *laughing* I write Romantic Women’s Fiction, which borders on Contemporary Romance at times. I ride the fence. Because I love romance and tension and chemistry in a story, my stories always have them, but the difference is that the plot isn’t about the relationship. It may be about family, or issues, or something going on that the main character has to face and deal with, while this chemistry is pulling at her from the side. It’s a big part of the story, but not the central plot. I do have HEA’s though, so when push comes to shove, I qualify for romance too. Some stores put me in Mainstream, some in Romance. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Amy: Amidst all the changes in publishing, how do you keep a positive attitude? So many people get discouraged!

Sharla: I just keep plugging along. I’m a believer that rejections make you stronger and make you do better work. The publishing industry may have to be really really choosy right now in what they can afford to take on, and that just makes me want to write better so they will.

Amy: Do you have a writing schedule or any rituals you want to share with us that really help your process?

Sharla: I have a full time day job, so my writing schedule consists of what I can do after 4pm, around dinner and errands and laundry and my daughter’s schedule. She’s a senior this year so lots of crazy things. And she’s preparing to go into the Navy this summer, so additional crazies. I long for the day when I can be a grownup author and write full time in my pj’s. 🙂

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors?

Sharla: I know it’s a cliche but never give up. Don’t sell your dream short. If you want self publishing, do it because you want that, because it’s your first choice, not because you can’t get in a different door. If you want traditional, then keep improving and working your craft. Rejections mean it’s not there yet. You want your book one day to be out there looking flawless and worthy next to the big names. Take the criticism and keep on keeping on. You will get there if you have the drive and stamina. It took me years. Never give up.

Thanks so much for having me over to chat, Amy!

Sharla Lovelace is the National Bestselling Author of THE REASON IS YOU, BEFORE AND EVER SINCE, and the e-novella JUST ONE DAY. Being a Texas girl through and through, she is proud to say that she lives in Southeast Texas with her family, an old lady dog, and an aviary full of cockatiels.

Sharla is available by Skype for book club meetings and chats, and loves connecting with her readers! See her website http://www.sharlalovelace.com for book discussion questions, events, and to sign up for her monthly newsletter.

You can follow her as @sharlalovelace on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

It’s been just about 18 months since I launched Women’s Fiction Writers, can you believe it?  And in that time I’ve featured debut women’s fiction authors, best-selling women’s fiction authors, some indie women’s fiction authors.  But one of the most special things to me is when the author being featured is an author I’ve admired for a long time.  Another favorite thing is when an author is an IRL (in real life) friend.  Well, Kelly O’Connor McNees is both!  So this is an extra-special day for me (oh, this isn’t about me? oops!).  I connected with Kelly because I read and adored her first book, THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT. I looked up the author website and sent an email, because that’s what I do, and did, even before I had a publisher or an agent (always appreciated by authors, by the way).  Then last Spring or maybe late Winter, we met in real life, in downtown Chicago, with another author friend, Renee Rosen.  We made that transition from acquaintances to friends.  From online to in real life.  And then Kelly’s second book came out, another historical novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE, and I knew that it fit neatly under the women’s fiction umbrella we’ve discussed so often here at Women’s Fiction Writers.  It’s a book with a lot of visual history, which to me means it creates pictures in my head that are vibrant, detailed, and real, ones I refer to again and again. And the three main characters are ones I was thrilled to follow on their literal and metaphorical journey to Nebraska where they went to meet their husbands.  I highly recommend both books (that doesn’t surprise you, I’m guessing!)

Please welcome, my friend, Kelly O’Connor McNees, to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

P.S. I’ve shared more photos of Kelly and me at the end of the interview! 

Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

Amy: Kelly!! Congratulations on the publication of your second historical novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE! Can you share with us where you got the idea for this novel?

Kelly: I had been thinking for a long time about a story that involved women homesteaders in the years following the Civil War, when the government was offering cheap land to Americans willing to move west and settle it. But I wasn’t exactly sure what shape the story would take until I found Chris Enss’s book Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, and I knew I wanted to write a novel about women who arranged to marry men they’d never met.

Amy: How was it different publishing your second novel from publishing your first?

Kelly: It’s an awful cliche to say that book publishing is in a “time of transition,” but it is true. My first novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, was published in 2010, and I have seen change even since then. The big challenge continues to be how can authors connect with readers who haven’t heard about their books? Of course we have plenty of avenues online–Goodreads, book blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and more–but I think most people still buy the books they hear about from their friends. To me, that means the most important thing a writer must focus on is writing compelling, well-crafted fiction readers will enjoy.

Amy: Aspiring authors, and published authors, can get increasingly discouraged. How do you side step the publishing-me-blues? Or don’t you? Any tips appreciated!

Kelly: I think you have to recommit, every day, to your purpose as a writer. I also think you have to control what you can control, and let the rest go. For me that means keeping my focus on practicing and improving my writing, reading widely, and participating in my literary community. I cannot control how many copies of my books will sell, and whether I will continue to be published. But I can control how hard I work.

Amy: We’ve discussed the definition of women’s fiction here many times – and the broad umbrella the genre provides. There was no doubt that IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE falls under that umbrella. What is your definition of women’s fiction?

Kelly: I have mixed feelings about this term because to me it means, simply, fiction about women’s lives. But to others in the reading world, it is a disparaging term. I had a man ask me recently whether In Need of a Good Wife was “for guys,” and I had to take a deep breath before responding. The idea that a story that focuses primarily on women will not interest men is alarming to say the least. I and most women I know read about men’s lives all the time. Most lauded fiction is concerned with men’s experiences. Your wife is a woman; your sisters and mother and daughters are women, but women in fiction don’t interest you? I’m sorry, but what a crock of shit.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of any kind of women’s fiction?

Kelly: Write the book you want to read.

Kelly O’Connor McNees has worked as a teacher and editor and lives with her husband and daughter in Chicago.

You can find out more about Kelly and her books on her website.

The author and her book at The Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Kelly reading from IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE. This was before the smoke alarm went off in the store, and in every store on the block.

Me and Kelly after the alarms were turned off. We’re smiling because we’re happy, and because it’s quiet.

On a 100 degree day in Chicago, me, Kelly, and Renee Rosen chill with fish tacos and wine on Michigan Avenue.

She Reads Co-Founder, Ariel Lawhon, Brings Us: The Impatient Character

I feel a special kinship with anyone who has started a website or blog or community for the benefit of writers and readers. I’m honored to have Ariel Lawhon here today, the co-founder of She Reads, a national on-line book club.  

Please welcome Ariel to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

She Reads Co-Founder, Ariel Lawhon, Brings Us: The Impatient Character

My biggest reading surprise of 2011 came in the form of Diane Setterfield’s gothic masterpiece, The Thirteenth Tale. Though published in 2008, I somehow managed to miss this novel until last summer when my family took a 1500 mile road trip. I packed five novels in the hopes that one of them would be good. I never made it past the first. And I’m not entirely sure if I spoke to my husband at all during that trip. I was consumed.

In her novel Diane Setterfield introduces us to Vida Winter, a prolific, reclusive author who chooses to tell her life story to a young biographer by the name of Margaret Lea. Vida Winter is one of the most memorable literary characters, and certainly the strongest female character I’ve ever read. She says something in the novel that felt so familiar to me that I’ve never forgotten it:

My study throngs with characters waiting to be written. Imaginary people anxious for life, who tug at my sleeve, crying, ‘Me next! Go on! My turn!’ I have to select. And once I have chosen, the others lie quiet for ten months or a year, until I come to the end of the story, and the clamor starts up again.”

I have experienced that demanding character, but never so intensely as while finishing my recent novel, The Rule of Three.

For months a new story had been nagging at me, creeping in during those moments when my mind was quiet. A long shower. That stretch of thought before drifting off to sleep. The dream that comes in the stillness before waking.

I recall writing a scene from my newly finished novel. It was a particularly tense argument between my Hero (her name is Stella) and Opponent that took place in an old, Jazz-era bar. There they were, leaning across the table in a dark, corner booth, both of them reaching for a tattered envelope containing a long-kept secret. I paused for a moment, fingers lightly touching the keyboard as I mulled a piece of dialogue. And then…

In the far corner of the bar was a woman delivering a baby! Of all the strange and bizarre things, the character in my next novel had walked into my current novel and set up shop. I could see it in my mind, like a fuzzy TV station that’s been caught between two channels, superimposing one face, one story, over another.

Vida describes that sensation best:

And every so often, through all these writing years, I have lifted my head from the page—at the end of a chapter, or in the quiet pause for thought after a death scene, or sometimes just searching for the right word—and have seen a face at the back of the crowd.”

I knew who this character was, of course. Her name is Martha. She’s a midwife. A mother. A diarist. A strong and capable woman if ever there was one. But in that moment she was an intruder. So I gave Martha her own notebook. I scratched down what she was frantically trying to tell me, and I politely escorted her from the premises. Then I shook off her specter and went back to the bar, and my characters bent in heated conversation.

The scene turned out well in case you’re wondering. As did the rest of the novel. But now it’s done. My mind, so battered after wrestling that story to the page, is finally rested. And Martha has renewed her protests, filling all that recently vacated space. It’s time to open her notebook.

There are other faces in the shadows behind Martha of course. A carpenter. A hoarder. A tattoo artist. They are waiting patiently. For now.

Ariel Lawhon is a novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She is also the co-founder of She Reads, a national online book club. Her latest novel, The Rule of Three, is based on the still-unsolved disappearance of a New York State Supreme Court Justice 1930 and is the story of three women who know what happened to him but choose not to tell. Ariel lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

Author Barbara Claypole White Discusses Her Debut Novel, Retail Therapy, OCD, And Fuzzy Slippers

I was lucky to receive an ARC of Barbara Claypole White’s debut novel, The Unfinished Garden. I’m also lucky to say that Barbara is a friend. TUG is a beautifully written love story, the kind you want to read slowly but can’t, because you need to know what happens next. It’s also the kind of book that’s so vivid, you can pretty much smell the gardens Barbara describes.

With insight and honesty Barbara shares with us how she came up with the idea for The Unfinished Garden, and how she is handling becoming a published author. Oh, and did I mention, her book launches TODAY? So happy book birthday to Barbara Claypole White — please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!!

Amy xo

Author Barbara Claypole White Discusses Her Debut Novel, Retail Therapy, OCD, And Fuzzy Slippers

Amy: How did you come up with the idea for The Unfinished Garden?

Barbara: The Unfinished Garden, like my favorite flowerbed, evolved over a decade. There are many echoes of my life in the novel, but two what if moments really birthed the story.

Twelve years ago I was working on another manuscript—an incredibly bad one—when my father died and I found myself back in my childhood home in rural England. I watched my mother navigate life as a new widow and thought, “Suppose that were me?”

I was a stay-at-home parent in rural North Carolina with no income and no citizenship of the country I called home. When I first met my husband at JFK Airport, I was working for a London fashion designer and he was a tenured professor at the University of Illinois. How’s that for a random act of fate?

My morbid dilemma—what would I do if something happened to my husband—became my heroine’s story. (He loves to tell people I killed him off in my novel.) I knew my heroine would be a gardener, because gardening is my therapy, but to understand the layers of her grief, I spent a summer interviewing a group of young widows. Before long, I had found Tilly.

The second what if moment came several years later. James was not my original hero, but as I sought escape from my young son’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, my mind veered off on another dark tangent: What if, once my son grew up, no one could deal with his quirky behavior and obsessive thoughts? What if no one could ever love him the way I loved my husband?

I didn’t set out to make a statement about OCD. I just wanted to create a believable character. Popular culture is littered with stereotypes of obsessive-compulsives. I love Criminal Minds—the television show—but if you pay attention, the words obsessive or compulsive often creep into the profiling of serial killers. And then there’s Monk, the brilliant television detective with the wipes-carrying assistant. Did anyone see the episode set in a classroom, when kids were laughing at him? Man, that one kicked me in the gut.

Imagine your darkest fears. Now imagine living with them every moment of every day. That’s what it means to be obsessive-compulsive. To fight back demands incredible emotional strength and courage. That’s what I wanted to bring to James. He’s neither a victim nor a psycho. He’s a successful and compassionate entrepreneur who happens to be terrified of everything except for snakes. Which gives him one up on Indiana Jones.

Amy: Your website says, “Love stories about damaged people.” Can you tell us about the kinds of stories you write—and how this theme evolved?

Barbara: A few years back, I was fortunate enough to hear Irene Goodman speak at a conference. The topic was platform, and I spent the next month agonizing over what this meant for a fiction writer. How could I create an author brand if I didn’t have an angle? What was ‘my thing’? What kind of stories did I write? Those thoughts stayed with me until I was ready to query, and then the answers became obvious. OCD is an unusual hook for women’s fiction, and my second novel circles depression, dementia, and bipolar disorder. Seriously.

But there was no master plan. I write emotional relationship stories about damaged people because that’s what I love as a reader. I’ve always been fascinated by mental illness—my aunt was schizophrenic—and I read lots of dark memoirs. Plus I’m a diehard romantic drawn to the idea that people who need each other, find each other. After all, I’m not far off my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a guy who picked me up at an airport.

Amy: When you write your novels (and I know you’re working on # 2) what’s your process? Do you outline? Plot? Or just write by the seat of your pants?

Barbara: Confession time: I didn’t think I had a process until I started book two, which is technically book three, if you count the first manuscript, hidden at the bottom of my closet. I’m not a plotter, but I am a researcher. Once I have an idea, I interview people and follow my instinct. At some point I start writing—normally while still researching—and then throw everything on the page.

I did create goal/motivation/conflict charts and an outline for my work-in-progress, but they were merely brainstorming exercises. The act of writing things down gets ideas circulating in my head. I’m always scribbling character notes on colored stick-ums, which I plaster to my wall. And never look at again.

I’m all about voice, so I have to keep excavating and rewriting until I hear the characters. No one sees my first draft because it’s crap, but valued readers see my second draft (which isn’t much cleaner than the first). By the third draft, I feel as if I’m pulling everything together. And then the fun begins: deep point of view. Yay.

Amy: What has been the most surprising part of the publishing process?

Barbara: When I started chasing this dream, it was because I wanted to write. And write. And write. But writing is only part of becoming an author, and these days I feel as if I’m guarding my writing time with a pitchfork.

Initially, I dashed from project to project with the attention span of an anxious kid force-fed caffeine. There’s so much juggling involved: the day job, promoting novel one, and trying to establish a career as an author while writing number two and dreading the moment someone says, “What about number three?”

Living with OCD has helped. I’ve always encouraged my son to think small when he’s overwhelmed, so I break life into manageable chunks: Take my son to school (fifty-mile round trip), come home, check email, write, pick up from school (another fifty-mile round trip), be Ms Mom/chauffeur/house elf until after supper when I do promo and author stuff. Of course, my garden is now the neglected garden and my house is never clean. My big plan for Labor Day weekend? Scrub my bathrooms and kitchen.

I’ve also realized that I need my friends more than ever. My gut reaction to all the craziness was to retreat, to shut everyone out. Big mistake. It takes a village to publish a novel and a community to keep you sane throughout the process. Your writer friends are the only people who can empathize with the madness; your non-writer friends will buoy you along with their excitement. Three friends are throwing a launch party for me next weekend, which includes a girls-only sleepover. Fuzzy slippers, wine, and jammies. Can you think of a better way to stay grounded during a book launch?

Amy: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

Barbara: I don’t really have one. How’s that for a lame answer? I’m not a fan of labels in fiction, but if you forced me, at gunpoint, to identify two authors I feel most embodied women’s fiction, I would chose Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes. Why? Because of the emotional reaction I have—as a wife, mother, daughter, sister—to their subject matter and their styles of writing. Both deal with relationships and darker issues but one uses hope, the other uses humor. They both hold the power to make me laugh, cry, or rush to the phone to tell my girlfriend, “We need to talk about this.”

But remember, there’s no separate category for women’s fiction on the bookstore shelves. Labels don’t matter. Only the story does, and the story has to have heart. Which makes me sound like Gene Hackman’s character in The Replacements. Now that was a fabulous chick flick—about football and male bonding. The feminist in me approves.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Barbara: Persevere. Write, rewrite, repeat as necessary—and never give up. Accept that your path to publication will be littered with rejections, and let each no be a badge of your commitment to succeed.

Rejection is the ugly step-sister of writing. Even after you’ve married the prince—or signed the pub. deal—it’s still coming to dinner once a week. I had to dump 90% of my work-in-progress before it became my second contracted novel. And thank God, because it was total rubbish.

I have yet to receive my first one-star review, but when that happens, I’m going to treat myself to serious retail therapy. And write my heart out.

Barbara Claypole White grew up in rural England with dreams of being a writer. So, armed with a degree in history, she became a publicist for London fashion. Passing through JFK one day, she fell in love with an American professor. Eighteen months later, she was a marketing director and a freelance journalist in the Midwest cornfields. But she had a secret: she was writing a novel. A really bad one.

When her husband was offered a distinguished professorship at UNC Chapel Hill, they moved to the North Carolina forest, where she became a woodland gardener and a stay-at-home mom. Gradually, she carved out time to write each day, but it wasn’t until their young son developed obsessive-compulsive disorder that she started writing relationship stories about damaged people. She had found her calling.

Barbara’s debut novel, The Unfinished Garden (Harlequin MIRA, 2012), is a love story about grief, OCD and dirt. Her second novel, with another cast of gloriously messed-up characters, follows in late 2013. She has an essay on raising a child with an invisible disability in Easy to Love but Hard to Raise (DRT Press, 2012). She also blogs through the highs and lows of OCD at www.easytolovebut.com and the rollercoaster of the writing life at http://bookpregnant.blogspot.com/

You can find Barbara Claypole White on Facebook or at www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com

What Happened When My Daughter Read My Novel

My final edits for The Glass Wives were accepted – which means the manuscript goes into queue for copyediting, and for all intents and purposes, big changes have been completed.  Cue ominous music. Then, when my editor sent me the finished, digital document, I had an instantaneous flash of an idea – the kind that comes from nowhere and then seems obvious – almost like I’d been daft not to think of it before.

“Do you want to read the book?” I asked my 16-year-old daughter.

Her eyes widened – and if you know Chloe, this is quite a sight.  Eyes big and round and bright blue, accented by immaculately plucked eyebrows, lined most days into a modified Cleopatra, with sometimes delicate, yet always deliberate, swipes of not-tested-on-animals mascara. Or false lashes, depending on the occasion.

She nodded and smiled wide.

As I emailed the word doc to her hand-me-down Kindle, I had two thoughts. First, coupled with her mama-love bias would be her AP English analytical skills. Second, with the springboard for the novel being an event in our real lives, I wanted to know if she had any misgivings about the plot or characters.

“Let me know if anything bothers you,” I said. “I’m not changing it, but I still want to know.”

She just rolled her eyes and chuckled, as if none of that surprised her.  Humor and robust candor are the cornerstones of our relationship. I reminded her it’s not her usual reading fare, and she understood.  When she’s not entrenched in her normal school year, she reads a book or more per week, but she’s not reading book club books, or up-market women’s fiction. She’s reading epic YA, sweet romances and classics.  But she was game.  Then I told her the most important part.

“There’s no sex in it.”

Her shoulders relaxed.  She was visibly relieved. My friends are usually visibly disappointed.

Chloe decided to read The Glass Wives on her daily trek to the gym.  Now I don’t want to include any spoilers, but she texted me in dismay and delight over the story every day for over a week as she read.  And I caught her reading at home as well.  She told me what she liked, where and she was annoyed with the characters, when the happenings and twists made her sad, glad, happy, heart-warmed and relieved.   Her favorite parts are my favorite parts.  They’re my editor’s favorite parts.  They are some of my critique partners’ favorite parts.  Chloe said it was believable – and best of all she laughed when I asked if saw how it was fiction.

“Well it’s obvious where you got the idea,” she said, almost gloating, like she was part of a big secret that isn’t one.  It’s not a secret that my kids’ dad died in 2004.  It’s not a secret that The Glass Wives is about a woman whose ex-husband dies suddenly. “But other than that,” Chloe said.  And again, more eye-rolling.

She did call me on something she did once that I attributed to my main character’s ten-year-old daughter, but it was more like Chloe was honored to be sprinkled into fiction than anything else. She laughed with me about all the people who will be sorely disappointed not to find themselves within the pages, what the characters look like to her, what the house looks like, what she thinks happened after The End.

Speaking of The End – she was satisfied. It’s not tied neatly with a bow and she appreciated that the reader is left to discern what’s next.  Chloe liked that there was ample resolution, and that throughout the book things weren’t always what they seemed, but by the end, all fit together and made perfect sense.

And as she well knows, that only happens in fiction.

Amy xo

And yes, I have two kids.  My son, Zachary, is 20 and not a reader of fiction, he’s a reader of sports. He’s a writer too, about sports.  He was pleased Chloe read it, and more pleased I didn’t expect him to do the same. 

If you want to see a compilation of photos I attribute to The Glass Wives, check out my Pinterest board by clicking here

Debut Author Mia March Explains How Thanksgiving, Divorce, And Meryl Streep Led To Her First Novel: The Meryl Streep Movie Club

The first time I heard about The Meryl Streep Movie Club I thought, “that’s genius” and “lemme at that author!”  Now finally — I’m happy to present Mia March to the Women’s Fiction Writers community.  With insight, hindsight, and foresight, Mia wrote a novel about how movies can find their way to our very core and help us make us who we are.  And who we want to be.

Please welcome Mia to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

How Thanksgiving, Divorce, And Meryl Streep Led To My First Novel

by Mia March

Ever had one of these Thanksgivings?: You’re in the kitchen with your mother and grandmother, and they’re sniping at each other over whether to put garlic in the mashed potatoes and who said what fifteen years ago, and all you want is for them to get along and remember why you’re all stuffed into this house on a Thursday night in the first place. Well, after that dinner and more digs about the dry-or-not drumsticks and who runs out of Diet Coke on Thanksgiving, my mother and grandmother and I sat down in the living room to watch a movie: The Bridges of Madison County, starring my favorite actress, Meryl Streep, and my mother’s favorite actor, Clint Eastwood. Some two hours later, popcorn consumed, credits rolling, my grandmother commented on the choice that Meryl Streep’s character makes at the end of the film. The discussion we had, from that one comment, changed everything.

My mother and grandmother went from barely speaking, full of silly resentments and old feuds, to opening up. To really talking. The question: should Francesca Johnson, married but deeply lonely Iowa farm wife originally from Italy, run off with Robert Kincaid, National Geographic photographer, with whom she fell deeply in love after a four-day whirlwind love affair when her husband and children were off at a state fair in the summer of 1965. Or, should she stay where she was, with her husband and two teenaged children. Our responses to her choice, and the whys, engendered a conversation that truly changed our relationship.

Fast forward ten years later to me on my couch with a bunch of rented Meryl Streep movies. I was going through my divorce and planned a weekend with tissues, popcorn and my favorite actress, whose incredible range was represented by the films I rented. The hilarious (but very poignant) Heartburn and Defending Your Life and Postcards from the Edge. The exquisite, life-affirming, soaring Out of Africa, my favorite Meryl Streep movie. One True Thing, which made me love Renee Zellwegger. That weekend, I laughed for what seemed like the first time in months over Heartburn and Defending Your Life. Out of Africa reminded me why I was going through this divorce in the first place and to strive, always. Film after film, Meryl Streep’s breathtakingly beautiful face, breathtakingly talented performances, made me think, made me cry, made me laugh. But most of all, Meryl Streep made me believe in her every expression, every line she uttered. I felt stronger after that Meryl Streep movie marathon—stronger, more whole, ready for next in a way I hadn’t been before.

And I started thinking about that Thanksgiving ten years earlier with my mother and grandmother, how we watched The Bridges of Madison County and how it got us talking, opening up, sharing, hugging. How it changed our perspective about a number of things, changed our relationship. I sat down at my laptop and typed the title dead center: The Meryl Streep Movie Club, then Chapter One below it, and characters were right there: a fractured family of women who are brought back together through the surprising and heartfelt and sometimes angry discussions engendered by watching the films of Meryl Streep, their difficult family matriarch’s favorite actress.

When I think about this, the two-fold inspiration for my novel, I’m always amazed by how watching a movie had such a impact on me and my family’s relationships and how it changed the way we watched movies together from then on. If my mother and grandmother hadn’t been arguing over whether to put garlic in the mashed potatoes, we might not have watched a movie at all; we tended to watch movies as a family as a way of not talking, of sitting in a darkened room and not engaging for two hours. But after that night, watching movies together became an event—choosing the film, what kind of food we’d have for our own “dinner theater,” and the hours-long discussion afterward.

I have Meryl Streep to thank for this. For decades of making me think, cry, laugh, and believe. For inspiring my novel, for inspiring me. She’s truly a gift. Just as movies are.

Has watching movies had this effect on you? Got you talking, got you thinking, changed your perspective on something?

Mia March lives on the coast of Maine, the setting of The Meryl Streep Movie Club, which Kirkus Reviews says is “a heartwarming, spirit-lifting read just in time for beach season.” The novel will be published in over eighteen countries. Mia’s next novel, Finding Colin Firth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in the summer of 2013. For more info, please visit Mia’s website at www.MiaMarch.com. You can also friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MiaMarch.author and follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/March_Mia

Women’s Fiction Author Brenda Janowitz Says: Use Editing As Your Path To An Elegant Story

We’re only half way through 2012 and I keep meeting other author publishing in 2013!  Today’s Women’s Fiction Writers author is Brenda Janowitz, who’s my St. Martin’s publishing cousin.  Brenda’s third novel comes out next year and it was fun to talk to her about the changes in publishing, her life, and her writing.  (I’m always in awe of multi-published authors…because of course, I want to be one!)

I hope Brenda will join us again when it’s time to launch Recipe For A Happy Life, but in the meantime she’s sharing great insights and advice.  Please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Women’s Fiction Author Brenda Janowitz Says: Use Editing As Your Path To An Elegant Story

Amy: In 2013, Recipe For A Happy Life, will be published. In 2007 and 2008, Scot On The Rocks and Jack With A Twist were published.  Can you take us on a brief journey of your road to publication — the first time around and now?

Brenda: The publishing industry has changed so much since my first novel!  It all started when I was invited to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding.  My real life started to resemble some of my favorite books, and I said to myself: I’ve gotta write this stuff down.  My friends signed me up for a writing class for my birthday, and the rest, as they say, is history.  I had no idea how to get a novel published.  I just figured that if I wrote one, I’d just get an agent and publishers would be knocking down my door.  Ha!  If I knew then what I know now…  But I didn’t, so I wrote the novel in the tiny pockets of spare time that I had when I wasn’t practicing law and then edited until I had the whole book practically memorized.  I sent it out to agents, and there was a lot of rejection.  It was the first time I said to myself: Hey! Publishing a book might not be as easy as I initially thought!  But then, luckily, my amazing agent, Mollie Glick, rescued me from the slush pile.  She was able to sell it to Red Dress Ink in a two book deal and that was it– I was officially a published author!

For my third novel, I was hoping to write my “big” novel.  Something a little different from what I’d done before, something more sophisticated.  It took me years to write RECIPE–I was trying to write a more ambitious book, and it took me longer to really figure out what I was trying to say with it.  Once I (finally!) finished it, Mollie sold it to St. Martin’s in a two book deal.  Everything about this experience is different.  New publishing house, new editor, and I’ve been having a wonderful time.  The book will come out next spring, and I can barely wait!

Amy: Is RECIPE similar to your first two books? And, can you tell us a little bit about RFAHL and where you got your inspiration? 

Brenda: RECIPE isn’t at all like my first two novels!  I’d like to say that it’s a bit more grown up than my first two novels, more sophisticated.  But the readers will be the judge of that!

The book is about three generations of women and the grand dame who rules over them from her Hamptons estate.  I was inspired by so many things!  My grandmothers, my mother, becoming a mom myself– that’s all in there.

Amy: When it comes to the actually writing of the story — are you a plotter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?  Do you have any writing rituals?  

Brenda: I don’t have any rituals.  I just write when I can, for as long as I can.  With two small children, I don’t have the luxury of a schedule.  And I wrote my first novel when I was practicing law full time, so I guess I never did!

As for whether I plot or write by the seat of my pants, I usually do a little of both. For RECIPE, I did a lot of free writing, where I just sort of wrote and wrote and wrote, only editing after I’d written around 100 pages.  But I also did a lot of outlining– figuring out how to make my story flow and fall into a three act, eight sequence structure.

Amy: What was your biggest obstacle, either internal or external, in writing this novel?  

Brenda: Life!  Over the course of writing this novel, I got married, moved out to the burbs, and had two kids.  So, I’ve been a little busy.  But I think that the themes I was working with (life, death, family, who we are and what we really want) also really challenged me and forced me to think through what I was trying to say with this novel in a way I never had before.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction? Does the label bother you? 

Brenda: I think women’s fiction is all about smart stories that women can relate to.  It’s the stuff I love to read, and the stuff that my friends read, too.  I don’t mind any label that helps readers find great books.  It can be disappointing when people take the label and use it to make negative assumptions about you and your work, but I choose to look at the positive in everything, so I like that readers have a way to find the books they love reading.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction? 

Brenda: Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.

Edit! Editing your work is almost as important as the writing itself. Sure, you’re telling your story, but it’s also important to consider the way that you tell it. You want your writing to be tight, elegant and polished. It can only get to be that way through careful and thorough editing.

Develop a very thick skin. You’re putting yourself out there when you write and not everyone is going to love what you do. But that’s okay! You’re not writing to please everyone out there. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. So start getting used to criticism and then see tip #1—keep writing!

A native New Yorker, Brenda Janowitz has had a flair for all things dramatic since she played the title role in her third grade production of Really Rosie. When asked by her grandmother if the experience made her want to be an actress when she grew up, Brenda responded, “An actress? No. A writer, maybe.”

Brenda attended Cornell University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Human Service Studies, with a Concentration in Race and Discrimination. After graduating from Cornell, she attended Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review and won the Law Review Writing Competition. Upon graduation from Hofstra, she went to work for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, where she was an associate in the Intellectual Property group, handling cases in the areas of trademark, anti-trust, internet, and false advertising. Brenda later left Kaye Scholer to pursue a federal clerkship with the Honorable Marilyn Dolan Go, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Brenda is the author of JACK WITH A TWIST and SCOT ON THE ROCKS. Her third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin’s in 2013. Her work has also appeared in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Post.

You can find Brenda at her website, on Twitter @BrendaJanowitz, and on Facebook.

Debut Author Nichole Bernier Dares Us To Write Nuanced, Unlikeable Characters Who Capture Readers’ Imagination And Attention

I’m so excited (ok, I know I say that all the time, what can I say, this is an exciting gig!) to have Nichole Bernier on the blog today.  Not only was her debut novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. one of the most anticipated of the summer, but she’s the founder of the amazing website, Beyond The Margins, so most of us already feel like we know her.  I think Nichole has some really special insights to offer us at Women’s Fiction Writers — and to many of us who are parents.  I hope you’ll agree.  I’m also thrilled that Nichole is having a book signing and reading in Chicago area in July, so I’ll be able to stalk meet her, and then share photos and stories with you later this summer!

Please welcome Nichole to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Debut Author Nichole Bernier Dares Us To Write Nuanced, Unlikeable Characters Who Capture Readers’ Imagination And Attention

Amy: Well, hello published author of a novel!! (I loved your FB updates! Last Wednesday as an unpublished author, last rainstorm as an unpublished author…) We know that books take a long time to get from idea to bookshelf.  What has your publishing journey been like?  And please, feel free to share any horror stories.  They’re comforting!  😉

Nichole: I’d been a magazine writer for a decade, and though I love reading fiction, I’d never had an urge to write it. But after I lost a friend in the September 11th terrorist attacks, there were things I couldn’t work through in my regular ways of writing. One day in early 2005, shortly after the birth of my third child, I wrote a dream sequence about a woman imagining her friend’s last moments. It didn’t occur to me that that would be anything more than a bit in my journal, but that sequence became the beginning of chapter three, and it’s never changed.

I wrote nights and weekends, and when it was clear this odd bit of writing wasn’t going away, I started siphoning off hours from my babysitter time meant to be used for my contracted magazine writing. As I got close to finishing the first draft, I found I really loved studying the business side of fiction and querying, which I found fascinating and altogether different than magazines.

But my big rookie error was in querying immediately after I finished the first draft. My mental timeline was still that of a magazine freelancer: finish, publish, paycheck. I wasn’t used improving something slowly and tortuously with no one in the world even waiting for it. We’d just moved to Boston and I was expecting my fourth child, and eager to cross “Get Agent” off my to-do list. There were some requests for partials and fulls, all leading to rejections in the end.

For the first time in two years I put the manuscript aside and fell into the rhythm of life with a newborn, not quite knowing what to do next. I had no writing community, no friends who wrote fiction, no mentors. A few months passed. Then I received a very personal rejection letter from a well-known agent, thoughtful reflection on what she saw I had envisioned and nearly achieved, but not quite. Even as a rookie I recognized this as more of a blessing than a rejection, and I threw myself into revisions. I developed a writing community. I revised for over a year. When I felt ready to query again, I received three offers of representation, for which I was endlessly appreciative. I felt it was important to meet the agents face to face, but by this time I was hugely pregnant with my fifth child (are we sensing a theme about landmark moments on the publishing timetime?) So I made a whirlwind trip to New York, and felt a strong connection to agent Julie Barer.

Julie worked with me for a year, urging me to streamline my story and weave more closely the timelines of my two main characters. After she sold it to Crown, the trajectory of the process suddenly made sense, all the necessary steps and hard work.

Amy: I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this: YOU HAVE FIVE CHILDREN!  And then to ask this: How on earth did you find time and energy to write a novel? (Please say chocolate had something to do with it.)  

Nichole: Would you believe me if I say I outsourced chapters to my older children? No?

Okay, the truth is I became both obsessed and streamlined. Before I started my novel I was a fairly multifaceted person: running, photography, cooking, skiing, golf. When I became serious about the novel most of my hobbies went down the tubes, and now I don’t watch a single tv show. I don’t say that with any particular pride, and in fact it’s a little embarrassing to be that out of touch with popular culture. But it’s amazing how being a busy parent has the laser-like ability to triage what’s really important to you.

I have an unscientific theory that if you are an involved parent, regardless of how many children you have, you get about three things to call your own. And the only other things that have remained for me are being involved in my kids’ schools, and a base level of exercise, which changed from running (reluctant, frenetic) to yoga (strengthening and calming). More than anything else, though, it was critical to have a supportive spouse who’d give me the hours and sometimes days away to really immerse myself in tough sections of writing and revision.

Amy: What’s your definition of women’s fiction? There’s so much controversy over even labeling books as such, does having your book fall under that category (as so many books do) bother you?

Nichole: I don’t know how or why that labeling got started, but I think it’s divisive and limiting. My best guess is that it was an easy way for marketing folks to throw a spotlight on books their likeliest target audience would enjoy, and to try to tap into the lucrative book-club market, which is primarily women. I think it does men a disservice, too, because it suggests that books aren’t really for them unless they have espionage, battle scenes or deer hunting. One of my most thoughtful Amazon Vines reviews came from a man who admitted he didn’t usually read books like mine, but went on to analyze very insightfully its elements of parenthood, marriage, and facades, and drew parallels to Sylvia Plath. So now I make no assumptions about the target audience for a book.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Nichole: Dare to write nuanced and nearly unlikeable characters. The world of so-called women’s fiction needs them. Trust that readers want to be challenged by what they read, are willing to go along with characters who might rub them the wrong way but still find them, their voice and their issues and circumstances, fascinating.

Unlikeable characters can be a hot button in the book world; for some they are riveting in a train-wreck way that grabs your attention but also makes you invested in them enough to care about their outcome. But some readers can be turned off if they cannot identify with a character. It’s a bit of an excursion and an education, writing beyond your comfort zone, teaching yourself to create characters who make questionable choices, but yet with the humanity to make readers care about them. 

Nichole Bernier is author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at @nicholebernier.

 

The Truth About Writer-Moms By Author Lauren Baratz-Logsted

If you don’t know Lauren Baratz-Logsted, you should! She writes women’s fiction, chick-lit, YA and middle grade books. She’s also a kick-ass editor and I should know because she helped me with an early version of what now The Glass Wives.

And, as you may have guessed, she’s also a mom!

Lauren’s “nice guy romance novel”, The Bro-Magnet, has catapulted to the top of the Kindle charts (as I’m typing this, it’s #2!) and lucky for you — it’s FREE until Sunday, May 20th.  Here’s the link so you can check it out yourself: THE BRO-MAGNET on Amazon. 

Congratulations Lauren!  

If Nothing Is Actively Crawling, The Place Is Clean Enough

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Recently, the Working Mom v Stay-at-Home Mom debates got a rehearing in the press. There’s one group that is often ignored in these things, the gray area where people like me reside: the Work-at-Home Mom. I’m a specialized kind of work-at-home mom. I am a writer.

Writers can be funny people. Often, you’ll hear women who are writers – or more properly, women who want to be writers – say, “It’s impossible to get it all done. I don’t have time to write because I’m too busy taking care of my family.”

Here’s the thing about lots of writers: They’ll find any excuse not to write.

Here’s the thing about me: I’m not like lots of other people.

True confession time: I am an indifferent housekeeper and an absentee cook. My motto regarding the former: “If nothing is actively crawling, the place is clean enough”; regarding the latter: “The microwave is my friend.”

The way I achieve balance is through multitasking whenever possible. While pregnant with my daughter, I read those books that say you should talk to your baby as much as possible – in the womb and out – to encourage language acquisition. The problem with being a writer is that when you spend whole days in a basement cave alone, silently pouring words out onto the page, you are not necessarily big on talking aloud. This means that the idea of making baby babble was out for me. Instead, when my baby was still inside me, I read Proust to her (no wonder she likes cookies); and a few months after she was born, when she started on solids, I used to read the Letters to the Editor from the New York Times, doing different accents for whichever state or country the letter writer was from, while feeding her in her high chair (no wonder her vocabulary is so good that at age six, she told me the problem with Amelia Bedelia is that “she takes things too literally”). Arguably the greatest multitasking feat I ever accomplished was writing the first draft of an entire novel, Vertigo, while breastfeeding. Obviously I didn’t do this all in one session. Since I was breastfeeding on the left while typing on the right, it resulted in a lopsided look for a time, but at least my child got fed and the book got written.

The best advice I ever got about mothering was from a friend who doesn’t even have kids. While I was still pregnant with what I knew was going to be a daughter, my friend told me, “The best gift you can give your daughter is the model of a strong woman pursuing her dreams with joy and determination. That way, when she grows up, she won’t feel she needs the world’s permission to do the same.”

I have done that.

This does not mean that there is not the occasional twinge of guilt. Occasionally, I ask my daughter, “Wouldn’t you rather have a different kind of mommy? You know, one of those cooking-and-cleaning mommies?” To this, she invariably replies, “No, I want the mommy I have.” Here’s the thing, the best thing of all: She is proud of what I do for a living and she has always known how deeply she is loved.

No, you can’t have it all. You can’t do it all either. But there is no reason in the world why you can’t do what you love.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 24 books for adults (The Thin Pink Line), teens (The Twin’s Daughter) and young readers (The Sisters 8 series, which she created with her novelist husband and her daughter). You can read more about her life and work at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com.